These Men Fought White Supremacists and Got Sentenced to Over 200 Years

Christopher “Naeem” Trotter had three months left in jail. Then, on February 1, 1985, he tried to avoid wasting one other incarcerated man’s life in a battle in opposition to white supremacists — and was punished with over a century behind bars.

In 1985, 23-year-old Trotter was ending a four-year jail sentence on the Indiana Reformatory, which is now generally known as the Pendleton Correctional Facility.

That February morning, he reminded himself that quickly, he can be residence and capable of care of his mom, whose psychological well being had been declining. He was additionally wanting ahead to assembly his 3-year-old daughter, who was born whereas he was imprisoned.

“I used to be a momma’s boy,” he advised Truthout. “It was my beloved mom who all the time taught me to face up for that which is true and to by no means simply stand by and watch acts of injustice happen.” As a toddler, he had shielded each his brother and mom from his father’s violence. And that morning, although he didn’t realize it, he would act to guard another person — and pay for it together with his freedom.

First, he smelled mace. He knew from expertise that might solely imply that the jail guards had been utilizing it in opposition to different incarcerated males. Then he heard males hollering, “They’re killing Lincoln Love! They’re killing him!”

Trotter knew Lincoln Love. Identified to his friends as Lokmar Abdul-Wadood, Love was a jailhouse lawyer, or an incarcerated one that helped others with their authorized work.

That morning, in response to Rodney Jones, who was within the cell instantly throughout from Love, guards arrived at Love’s cell and ordered him to “cuff up,” or put together to be handcuffed and have his cell searched. Earlier than Love might rise from his bunk, a number of officers entered his cell and started beating him. They continued to beat him after handcuffing him and even after he was unconscious, Jones advised Truthout.

John 'Balagoon' Cole was friends with Lincoln Love. He too had experienced staff violence and wanted to protect his friend.
John “Balagoon” Cole was mates with Lincoln Love. He too had skilled workers violence and needed to guard his buddy.

This in itself was common — Trotter and several other different males who had been incarcerated throughout that point attested that workers brutality, notably in opposition to Black males, was rampant. Two years earlier, individuals on the reformatory had filed civil rights complaints with the U.S. Justice Division. That they had additionally despatched a number of letters to the native newspaper about particular person situations of harassment and abuse. What was uncommon was what occurred subsequent.

Different males additionally heard the cries for assist. John “Balagoon” Cole was mates with Love. He, too, had skilled workers violence and needed to guard his buddy. Cole, Trotter and half a dozen different males went to the captain’s workplace to demand that he cease the beating. There, they encountered club-wielding guards, who tried to chase them off. The lads fought again, injuring a number of guards, earlier than heading to the infirmary, the place they’d been advised Love had been taken.

On the infirmary, extra officers confronted them.

Christopher 'Naeem' Trotter was punished with over a century behind bars after trying to save another incarcerated man's life in a fight against white supremacists.
Christopher “Naeem” Trotter was punished with over a century behind bars after making an attempt to avoid wasting one other incarcerated man’s life in a battle in opposition to white supremacists.

Minkah Becktemba had been working on the jail laundry that morning when he noticed guards dragging Love throughout the yard to the hospital. Shortly after, the jail known as a lockdown. He tried to get into his housing unit, banging on the door till the guard on responsibility unlocked the door. When he did, a number of different males, together with Cole and Trotter, poured in. They took over the unit and held three workers members hostage.

“We didn’t intend to take over the cell home,” Trotter defined. “If we might have surrendered with none bodily reprisals, we’d have.”

“We had been compelled to take hostages and take the home in order that we might negotiate a peaceable decision,” Cole elaborated. Each believed that, had they not performed so, guards would have killed them.

From the housing unit, Becktemba known as WTLC, a neighborhood Black radio station, and requested reporters to come back to the jail. “That was what we needed to do or else we’d find yourself lifeless,” he advised Truthout. WTLC contacted different media, which quickly arrived on the jail.

The lads issued 14 calls for, together with investigations into all allegations of workers violence, sufficient medical care, pay raises for jail jobs, improved instructional applications, and no bodily reprisals in opposition to those that had participated within the rebellion. In addition they demanded that media be allowed to interview them about jail situations.

After 17 hours, jail officers agreed to their calls for. The lads launched the hostages. Media trailed the lads as they had been positioned in segregation; the journalists’ presence ensured their security. Inside days, jail workers transferred Becktemba, Cole and Trotter to the Indiana State Farm (now Putnamville Correctional Facility).

Jail data and media accounts on the time acknowledged that Trotter and Cole stabbed or slashed seven workers members that morning. Prosecutors filed legal fees in opposition to Trotter, Cole, Becktemba, and three different males. The trial of Trotter and Cole was severed from the others. Prosecutors charged the 2 with tried homicide, rioting, assault and several other counts of confinement (or kidnapping).

At their trial, Michael Richardson, one of many guards whom Cole had stabbed, testified that Pendleton’s officers had been members of a white supremacist group known as the Sons of Gentle. He defined that, whereas the group is just not affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan and doesn’t pay Klan dues, it makes use of the identical literature and engages in related forms of rituals. He additionally testified that workers had crushed Lincoln Love even after he was handcuffed and posed no risk, and that they continued to beat, kick and stomp him after he fell unconscious.

Cole, who had three-and-a-half years left on his sentence, was acquitted of tried homicide however convicted of 4 counts of legal confinement, every carrying a 20-year jail sentence, and rioting. The choose sentenced him to consecutive sentences for a complete of 84 years. He spent 32 years and 5 months in solitary. In August 2017, he was allowed again into normal inhabitants the place he might have human contact. His launch date is 2038. By then, he shall be 79 years previous.

Trotter, who had been wanting ahead to taking good care of his mom and younger daughter, was convicted of tried homicide, legal confinement and rioting. He was sentenced to 142 years.

In 1990, the Indiana Supreme Courtroom upheld Trotter’s and Cole’s convictions.

Becktemba was tried individually. Prosecutors charged him with 5 counts of confinement, conspiracy to confinement, rioting and conspiracy to riot. Every cost carried a most of 20 years. Finally, Becktemba was convicted of rioting and acquitted of all else. He was launched within the mid-Nineties.

The Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2 created these comics to convey the story of Christopher 'Naeem' Trotter and John 'Balagoon' Cole to a wider public, on the 38th anniversary of their incarceration.

“A Racist Subculture Has Been Allowed to Flourish in a State Jail”

Michael Richardson’s testimony was the primary time that lots of the incarcerated males heard the identify the Sons of Gentle. (Trotter had beforehand seen the group’s literature on a captain’s desk.) However all knew that there have been white supremacists among the many workers. “We simply thought it was a contingent of racist guards that bought off on beating Black prisoners,” Cole stated.

In 1986, Richardson and 5 different guards filed a federal lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Corrections charging that the beating of Lincoln Love had sparked the riot, that workers violence was a generally accepted apply on the jail and that, by failing to cease these beatings, officers had uncovered them to hazard of retaliation. That very same 12 months, the jail fired William Wicker, one of many supervising officers concerned in Love’s beating.

“My mom all the time taught me that life was greater than simply myself, and also you all the time need to be keen to assist others it doesn’t matter what the associated fee.”

Not a lot has been written concerning the Sons of Gentle, however white supremacy amongst legislation enforcement, including prison staff, is not uncommon.

By the point Cole and Trotter arrived, the Indiana State Farm was a hotbed of white supremacy amongst workers. In line with a report drawn from over 1,000 prison documents, a bunch generally known as “the Brotherhood” terrorized each incarcerated individuals and different workers. Not like the Sons of Gentle, Brotherhood members had been largely non-guard workers, together with cooks, meals service workers and upkeep foremen.

By 1991, they had been brazenly flaunting Brotherhood tattoos and swastika rings. Brotherhood workers had been repeatedly charged with spitting within the meals of Black prisoners, assaulting Black prisoners, threatening workers and incarcerated individuals, and vandalizing property. However fears of violent reprisals typically stored witnesses from cooperating with investigators even when complaints had been filed. In 1994, an inside affairs investigator submitted a report a few Brotherhood member who had assaulted an incarcerated particular person and tampered with proof to cowl up his assault. 5 days later, whereas the investigator was celebrating his birthday at a neighborhood bar, the officer underneath investigation and two different Brotherhood members brutally beat him. At trial, the choose barred testimony concerning the investigation, the Brotherhood and previous fees in opposition to the assailants. They had been acquitted and, later, given backed housing on jail grounds. The racism, threats and violence continued into the 2000s.

In 2001, when the governor took no motion, DePauw College launched the report concerning the Brotherhood. However the implications, wrote report writer Kelsey Kauffman, lengthen past one group inside one specific jail.

“What is just not necessary is whether or not the Brotherhood exists as a proper group with membership lists, initiation rites, by-laws or established technique of succession. Neither is it necessary whether or not the group has a political or social agenda past self-aggrandizement of its members, particularly its leaders,” Kauffman famous. “What’s necessary is {that a} racist subculture has been allowed to flourish in a state jail; that the members of that subculture have used violence, intimidation, and harassment in opposition to different workers and inmates over the course of a few years to realize energy on the jail; that they’ve used that energy to defend their mates and punish their foes; and that they’ve performed all of this with the total information and lively safety of their superiors together with the state commissioner of correction.”

No such report has been written concerning the Sons of Gentle. It’s unclear whether or not the group nonetheless exists or if some other organized white supremacist group is lively amongst workers at Pendleton.

What is evident is that, practically 4 many years after members of the Sons of Gentle beat Lincoln Love, John “Balagoon” Cole and Christopher “Naeem” Trotter stay in jail for defending him.

“The Attica of Indiana”

The final time Trotter noticed his beloved mom was within the courtroom. By then, her psychological well being had deteriorated and he or she was oblivious to the goings-on. “All she needed was to see her son,” he stated. Trotter recalled that prosecutors had been demonizing him and Cole however, when he circled, he noticed a glow in his mom’s eyes, one which he remembered from his childhood.

In March 1996, Trotter was nonetheless in solitary when guards woke him, ordered him to cuff up and took him to the jail case employee, who advised him that his mom had been killed in a automobile accident. Then he was returned to his cell to mourn in isolation.

In 2019, after submitting a number of authorized petitions, Trotter was granted a resentencing listening to. The choose resentenced him to 122 years, stating, “These guards anticipate the remainder of us to have their backs.” By then, Trotter was 56 years previous.

The three-year-old daughter that Trotter had been keen to satisfy is now an grownup and a mom of 4. Nonetheless, neither Trotter nor Cole remorse taking motion that day.

“If individuals had intervened the day that George Floyd had been crushed by racist police, he can be alive in the present day,” Trotter stated. Had the lads not acted, Trotter is definite that the guards would have killed Love. (Love remained in jail, the place he died of COVID in 2020.)

“I spent many years in solitary confinement, in a windowless cell 23 hours a day, asking myself, ‘If I needed to do it another time, would I [have] sacrificed my freedom, plans to care for my beloved mom, and be a gift father to my daughter?’” Trotter advised Truthout.

Then he answered his personal query. “I’d have performed the identical factor and [come] to the protection of a fellow human being who couldn’t defend himself from the savage beating by racist jail guards as a result of I’m my beloved mom’s son. My mom all the time taught me that life was greater than simply myself, and also you all the time need to be keen to assist others it doesn’t matter what the associated fee.”

Cole additionally doesn’t remorse his actions that day. In 2022, he started having seizures. A CAT scan revealed that he had a mind tumor, which required surgical procedure. He’s making use of for the courtroom to switch his sentence, noting that had the choose ordered his sentences to run concurrently (or on the similar time), he would have been launched years in the past. He repeatedly famous that nobody died that day and that the consecutive sentences had been meant to ship a message to different incarcerated individuals.

That message has been repeated all through the years contained in the jail. In 2011, one man recounted that officers still used their example to quell organizing.

“The way in which it’s understood in jail, it’s just like the Attica of Indiana,” Too Black, the communications coordinator of the Protection Committee to Free the Pendleton Two, advised Truthout.

Exterior of jail, nonetheless, Cole and Trotter had been largely relegated to newspaper archives.

That modified in 2022, practically 4 many years after that fateful February morning, when organizers with IDOC Watch, an abolitionist prisoner assist group, created the Protection Committee to Free the Pendleton Two.

By public occasions, protests, social media, podcasts and an upcoming documentary, they’re reminding the general public concerning the males’s ongoing punishment and galvanizing strain not solely to free each males, but in addition to spark wider outrage concerning the state’s abusive remedy of Black individuals.

And, for Cole and Trotter, they’re hoping to lastly go residence.

“I gave Indiana my flesh and blood for the crimes that I dedicated — not simply on February 1, however for all of the crimes dedicated over the course of my life,” Cole stated. “They’ve gotten greater than their due from me. It’s time to let me go.”

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